Welcome to The Sidebar, Elías! Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
After graduating as a biologist, I worked at the Icelandic Marine Research Institute, and I particularly enjoyed going out to sea to collect samples for research. I later found that my scientific interest revolved more around health, so I decided to pursue a master’s degree in epidemiology at the University of Melbourne in Australia. I have often had to explain what epidemiologists do but since the pandemic, most people have become quite familiar with the term.
But epidemiology is not just about infectious diseases, it is also the study of the distribution and risk factors of health-related states and events. After completing my studies, I worked for ten years at the Icelandic Heart Association analyzing data from population-based cohort studies. Such work aims to improve understanding of risk factor associations, thus generating knowledge that may ultimately improve public health.
You recently had a paper published on the possibility of carotid artery atherosclerosis and the presence of coronary artery calcium to predict future coronary heart disease events. Could you tell us a little more about it?
The paper is based on data from the population based REFINE-Reykjavik study which is conducted by the Icelandic Heart Association. Participants in this study underwent detailed examinations which allowed us to investigate atherosclerosis in individuals who do not have a previous history of heart disease.
Atherosclerosis is the build-up of fats, cholesterol and other substances within the arterial walls which leads to narrowing of the arteries and reduced blood flow. The plaques that accumulate can eventually stop blood flow or rupture, causing an acute event such as a heart attack or a stroke.
In this study, we were able to investigate associations between atherosclerosis in two distinct locations in the body, in the carotid arteries in the neck and coronary artery calcium in the heart. Information on those associations have been lacking for individuals without a history of heart disease.
The benefit of imaging the carotid arteries using ultrasound is that it does not involve exposure to radiation, whereas this is the case for assessing coronary artery calcium.
Therefore, it can be of value if a non-invasive assessment of atherosclerosis in the carotid arteries could provide information on atherosclerosis in the heart, as this may help identify individuals at risk of serious events.